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TV Preview: 2009, the Year of the Sitcom

Posted: September 10, 2009 2:46 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2009 6:00 a.m.

America's Next Top Model - Cycle 13. Pictured (l-r) Sundai, Nicole, Laura, Erin, Lulu, Jennifer, Brittany, Courtney, Bianca, Rae, Kara, Ashley, Rachel and Lisa. This season's America's Next Top Model will feature contestants all under 5'7" - well under the industry height standards.

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It's Comedy Tonight!
‘They' said sitcoms were dead. Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes sitcoms have returned to the primetime schedule of the major networks with a vengeance. Behold! It is the rebirth of comedy on network television.

"Two and a Half Men," "The Big Bang Theory," "The New Adventures of Old Christine," "Gary Unmarried" and "How I Met Your Mother" proved the cynics and the naysayers wrong. Comedy, yes, even multi-camera sitcom comedy, lives on CBS.

CBS pioneered the rebirth of the network comedy, once a genre owned by NBC with the successful "Frazier" and "Friends" comedies.
"Accidentally on Purpose" will be added to the CBS comedy stable 8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21.

What looks to be the brightest new comedy of the season stars Jenna Elfman as a San Francisco movie critic who has a one-night stand with a 20-something guy and winds up pregnant.

I'm not sure how sustainable the plotline is, but it sounds fun.

I've always enjoyed Elfman since "Dharma and Greg" - one of the best sitcoms ever made.

ABC has entered the sitcom fray again - after almost abandoning the genre. The network will launch a comedy night on Wednesdays pitting its new shows against CBS comedies "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and "Gary Unmarried" and the popular CBS drama "Criminal Minds." NBC will offer up a couple of dramas - "Mercy" and "Law and Order: SVU" as competition.
ABC's "Hank" (premiere 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30) will star Kelsey Grammer as a wealthy CEO who loses his job and finds himself back in the role of father in a family he's largely ignored. Yes, good times!

Following "Hank" at 8:30 p.m. will be Patricia Heaton starring in "The Middle" - a family sitcom set in the Midwest. How unique! The Midwest!

It is interesting to note that Grammer and Heaton were recently paired in the failed sitcom "Back to You."

Perhaps fall's most daring new program is "Modern Family" (premiering 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 on ABC). I'm not clear on how a traditional married pair with kids, a gay couple, and an older man with a sexy young Latina wife all interact in this sitcom, but it sounds fun to me.

One of the comedies I'm looking forward to most is "Cougar Town" (9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23 on ABC). Courteney Cox returns to TV as a woman in her 40s looking for love. I'm not sure I appreciate the "cougar" moniker in the title as I've always felt it was a bit dismissive of older women. But perhaps us older ladies should just embrace the term and be proud!

The clips I've seen from this Bill Lawrence ("Scrubs") creation look hilarious - boding well for this comedy. Sometimes you'll see a clip and think... hmmm... looks funny, but something seems forced.

Cox, however, is naturally hilarious and the supporting cast appears to be first rate.

The most daring scheduling of the season is the "Jay Leno" show coming to NBC, 10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14. Running across the five weekday nights at 10 p.m. Leno will offer his usual comedy monologue as well as comedy "correspondents" - alum Ross Mathews as well as comedians Liz Feldman, Brian Unger, Nick Thune, Owen Benjamin, Marina Franklin, Sebastian Maniscalco, D.L. Hughley, Mikey Day, Rachael Harris, Jim Norton, Dan Finnerty and The Dan Band as Leno's men and women on the street.

The show will feature the usual Leno standards with topical humor, newsmakers, celebrity guests, correspondents and "Headlines" and "Jaywalking" but also more standup and the introduction of new comedians.

But we've been warned not to expect this to be "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" moved to primetime.
We'll see.

Also on the fall schedule is "Brothers" premiering 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25 on FOX (not a network that seems to know what to do with good comedies even when it has them) and the return of "Til Death" premiering 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 on FOX.

"My Name is Earl" is gone, sadly. I bet it would still survive if it hadn't have been an expensive single camera sitcom and a multi-camera instead.

NBC will offer up a Thursday night comedy lineup of "SNL Weekend Update Thursday," (8 p.m. Sept. 17), "Parks & Recreation" (8:30 p.m. Sept. 17), "The Office" (9 p.m. Sept. 17) and "Community" (9:30 p.m. Sept. 17.)

"Community" is being hailed by critics as "the best new show of the fall."

The show is built around a group of misfits at a community college that form a study group. If done right it sounds like it could inherit the "Newhart" crown for ensemble comedy.

Why the resurgence of comedy?

I'm guessing that in troubled times people want to find any reason to laugh and the networks, in their own world of hurt, find that comedies are cheaper to produce. Whatever the reason, I like to laugh, so I'm happy to see comedies reclaiming their rightful place on the network schedules.

I hope the networks give these shows a chance to build an audience and stop axing shows before anyone has had a chance to sample them.

Reality rules the airwaves
From ‘TAR15' to ‘Survivor: Samoa' to ‘ANTM 13' to ‘Project Runway,' reality survives

By Michele E. Buttelman
Signal Features and Entertainment Editor

If it's a reality competition show I'll watch it - except "American Idol." Unlike much of scripted television reality television seems to run year-round and I'm a devoted fan.

Among my favorites are "The Amazing Race" which launches it 15th season on Sunday, Sept. 27 (8 p.m. CBS).

Among the contestants, paired in 12 teams of two, this year are two of the Harlem Globetrotters - Nathaniel "The Big Easy" Lofton, 28, from New Orleans, and Herbert "Flight Time" Lang, 32, from Brinkley, Ark.

Justin Kanew, 30, and Zev Glassenberg, 26, are best friends from Los Angeles. Glassenberg has Asperger's syndrome, a milder form of autism.

Maria Ho, 26, and Tiffany Michelle, 25, are professional poker players.

Among the teams who are romantically linked: a feisty engaged couple from Boston; grade-school sweethearts from San Diego; a dating couple from San Francisco who met online; married yoga instructors from Encino; dating aspiring country singers; and a former Miss America and her husband.

Host Phil Keoghan returns to tell teams, "You're the last to arrive, I'm sorry, you've been eliminated."

For the first time, one team will be booted at the start of the trek, and racers will have to tackle the Switchback, a new twist that sends teams back to one of the series' most challenging "roadblocks." Executive producer Bertram van Munster said the racers will set off from the Los Angeles River, then first head to Tokyo to complete several tasks.

I enjoy "The Amazing Race" because it is a skill (and luck) basted competition show, not a "personality" or "social skills" show like "Survivor."

It's also like a travelogue on steroids. Each week viewers can experience - and learn something - without leaving the comfort of your easy chair.

There's a reason that "The Amazing Race" has won every Emmy Award for Reality-Competition Program since the category was introduced in 2003.

It's that good.

Despite my disdain for the lying and "popularity" contest skills needed to win "Survivor" I've been hooked on the show since the second season.

"Survivor" will host the largest group of contestants ever, 20, when the show opens its 19th season on Thursday, Sept. 17 (8 p.m. CBS).

Jeff Probst will host the competition on the lush island location of Samoa.

Among the competitors: David Ball, Los Angeles; Betsy Boland Campton, N.H.; Mike Borassi, Marina del Rey; Ben Browning, Los Angeles; Marisa Calihan, Cincinnati; Erik Cardona, Ontario, Calif., Brett Clouser, Los Angeles via Salem, Ore.; John Fincher, Los Angeles (he's the rocket scientist); Yasmin Giles, Los Angeles via Detroit; Russell Hantz, Dayton, Texas; Elizabeth Kim, New York; Laura Morett, Salem, Ore.; Monica Padilla, San Diego; Jaison Robinson, Chicago; Kelly Sharbaugh, Los Angeles via Wilmington, Del.; Russell Swan, Glenside, Pa.; Ashley Trainer, Maple Grove, Minn.; Mick Trimming, Los Angeles via Boise, Ida.; Shannon Waters, Renton, Wash and Natalie White, Van Buren, Ark.

Another "guilty pleasure" is America's Next Top Model (8 p.m. Wednesdays on The CW). Hosted by former supermodel Tyra Banks ANTM is in its 13th "cycle." For the first time girls 5'7" and under, well below the industry height standard, compete to become "America's Next Top Model." Fourteen hopefuls compete to win a contract with Wilhelmina Models. 

Other reality television programs include "Dancing with the Stars" - the 800-pound gorilla of reality TV - which premieres over three nights Sept. 21-23 (8 p.m. ABC); "The Biggest Loser" - the weight loss reality TV drama (8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15 NBC) and "So You Think You Can Dance" (8 p.m. Wednesdays, FOX).

Don't forget the current crop of cable reality programs "Top Chef" on Bravo (10 p.m Wednesdays) and "Project Runway" (10 p.m. Thursdays) on Lifetime. Both programs are excellent fun.



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